Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Purchasing Cultural Capital

Cultural capital, you will remember, is the bank of experience kids bring to the table when they go to school, and learn to read and write and compute sums, and generally navigate life. The more experiences kids have, the more "money" in their "banks." Research shows that the more actual money in the parents' bank accounts, the more experiences they can afford to purchase for their children -- things like zoo trips, museums, sports experiences, travel, computer usage, etc.

Trouble is, some of us want to give our kids these things but are living on one income. How, then, do we give our kids experiences?

Bookivore and her husband realized a while ago that birthdays and Christmas were becoming Toy Explosion Events: it was like Toys R Us threw up in our house. We were swamped with toys, drowning in toys, caught in giant sinkholes of toys from which there was no escape.

One too many Polly Pockets -- the Horror!

So Bookivore and Mr. Bookivore (who actually prefers to be known as Big Truck) started asking grandparents and aunts and uncles to start giving the kids experiences rather than stuff.

I won't lie to you: there was consternation, especially among the grandparents, for whom the role of fairy godmother was very very pleasant. However, we were as firm as we could be without actually bonking anyone on the head and shouting "Get OVER it!" And some very nice things began to happen.

My sister-in-law quit giving gifts entirely in favor of a Day of Fun: the birthday child goes to their home for the day and chooses any activity he or she wants: ice skating, zoo, pool, roller skating, ceramics decorating shop, tennis, golf...whatever. The child also chooses a lunch destination and a dinner destination (always fast food), and can add in activities like Wii, cookie making and decorating, dress up or art projects of some sort. And here's the super-coolio part: she then makes a DVD of the day using some magically awesome program on her computer that transitions photos, blends in video, and sets it all to music. Then the birthday kid can re-live the day over and over. Fabulous.

One set of grandparents has given mini-memberships to a rock-climbing facility near our house for the last 2 years. That has the added bonuses of being fun and good exercise. They also give magazine subscriptions that we would not ordinarily be able to afford. Another aunt makes about half her gifts books, which of course, Bookivore thinks is totally awesome. We still have one hold- out that can't let go of giving toys, but the balance between experiences and stuff has shifted in a good way.

Unfortunately, the starting line for kids isn't always the same, but we can help our kids stay in the game by making some changes that allow them to have more experiences, rather than just more toys to store, break, and give to Goodwill.

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